Tag Archives: middle east

Intimacy, Irresistibility and Political Depth

by guest contributor Tasnim, originally published at Epiphanies of the Shocked and Awed

Persepolis, the animated film based on Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel, was released in the US on 25 December. The film, like the novel, is in black and white and just as visually striking. Satrapi says that she sees “images as a way of writing” in a more accessible, international language: “when you draw a situation—someone is scared or angry or happy— it means the same thing in all cultures”.

Satrapi refused several offers to buy the rights for ‘adaptations’, being aware that ”normally when you make a movie out of a book, it’s never a success.’’ But whether or not Persepolis the film gets it right, it does seems unrealistic to ask a 90 minute film to pack in all the qualities Gloria Steinem praised Satrapi’s book for having – “the intimacy of a memoir, the irresistibility of a comic book, and the political depth of a the conflict between fundamentalism and democracy.”

Such neatly phrased praise decorates the blurbs of bestselling books everywhere, and is possibly not intended to be taken as strict truth stripped of all rhetoric. But it seems to overlay a genuine feeling that reading the personal experiences of an oriental is conducive to comprehending “a world, most Westerners can scarcely comprehend”.

That quote comes from the Washington Post Book World, referring to Mernissi’s memoir, Dreams of Trespass, which is given its own triple set of helpful qualities: “its good humor is unwavering, it tempers judgmentalism with understanding, and it provides a vivid portrait…” of that other, alien world. That is, Mernissi’s memoir is intimate, irresistible and, also, as enriching its entertaining exotic aspect, it provides ‘political depth’, in the same way that waging war has the benefit of geography lessons.

It seems to me that having the political depth of the conflict between fundamentalism and democracy requires a lot of ‘depth’. Such depth as might perhaps extend beyond the personal frame of a memoir and into history. These are conflicts that Satrapi’s dry remarks acknowledge. As she says, “if I pretend that I was sitting in a house worrying day and night about my country, that would be a big lie.” Continue reading

The Veil Does Not a Prison Make

by Racialicious special correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie, originally published at Muslimah Media Watch

Who’s Danielle Crittenden? She writes a blog for The Huffington Post and recently, she decided to “take on the veil” as a social experiment for one week of her life in Washington, D.C. She went straight for the gold and decided to wear the starkest, blackest niqab out there, ignoring the fact that the hejab is far more prevalent among Muslim women than the niqab. She blogs about her experience in four separate posts under the title, “Islamic Like Me.”

Readers, you know my issue with people who use “Muslim” and “Islamic” synonymously. For god’s sake, would somebody check the Associated Press guidelines?! “Islamic” describes architecture and history…things. A “Muslim” is an adherent of Islam; Muslims are people, not things.

So Ms. Crittenden decides to put on a niqab…for what? For giggles? She never really explains her reasons for doing so, but makes it very apparent that wearing a niqab is a bad idea because it’s “oppressive”. Does she want to see what it’s like to be a Muslim woman who wears niqab? Does she want to understand the prejudice that these women face?

No. After reading her posts, it’s obvious she just wants to play dress-up. She doesn’t attempt to adhere to any principles of Islam while wearing the niqab, nor does she take it off in her home like most niqabis would, nor does she even attempt to start a dialogue with any Muslim women—niqabis or not.

This experiment reminds me of one of Tyra Banks’ experiments: you remember when she put on a fat suit? Yeah. That one. She put on a fat suit under the guise of “seeing how the other half lives” but really just used it as a self-indulgent exercise in vanity (kind of like everything else Tyra does, bless her heart). This one seems really no different.

So, we read the first paragraph of Ms. Crittenden’s post “Islamic Like Me: Taking On The Veil”, and already, I want to throw my computer out the window.

“‘I wonder what it’s like to wear Arabic dress?’ I said one day to my husband. His eyes sparked with interest. ‘You mean as in I Dream of Jeannie?’ ‘No. I mean those black cover-ups they wear in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries.’”

(Long sigh). So, we begin with the blatantly incorrect idea that all women in the Middle East wear “Arabic” clothing, even if they are not Arab or Muslim. We see later in her posts that her idea of “Arabic clothing” is a niqab and abaya—ignoring several other traditional dress styles that Arab women wear. And, of course, her husband throws in the sexualized Orientalist fantasy of I Dream of Jeannie. Fantastic! Continue reading

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Triple Threats and Double Troubles for Muslim Women

by Racialicious special correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie, originally published at Muslimah Media Watch

You’ve probably heard about the recent ruling given to a Saudi gang-rape victim: 110 lashes added onto the original sentence of 90 lashes because she protested her sentence to the media. It’s a horrible and vindictive sentence, and the callous treatment this woman has received as a victim is insulting to her, Saudi Arabia, and Islam.

Why Islam? What does her ruling have to do with Islam? Well, nothing really. Technically, the judge who sentenced her went by Shari’a law, but he added those extra lashes from his own judgment because she spoke out about her case. So he punished her.

But every reactionary blog poster, conservative news network, and Western women’s rights group has condemned this action as an Islamic one. So Muslim women around the world have a choice: do we defend ourselves against Islamophobia, against racism, or against misogyny?

This “triple threat” is one we often face as Muslim women (especially if we are also women of color). We always seem to be battling against one (or more) of these three issues: racism (for Muslim women who are also non-white), Islamophobia, or misogyny (not just from our own Muslim communities, but also from non-Muslim communities who think they know what’s best for us).

Being on the defensive all the time creates reactionary behavior. We always feel like we have to keep our guards up to defend our faith and our choices, and it gets tiring. Most Muslims don’t necessarily mind explaining stuff (that is, if you’re genuinely interested in understanding instead of starting an argument), but we can’t all be Encyclopedia Islamicas all the time.

Some of this “damage control” keeps us from having dialogues within our communities. Muslim women face a lot of problems within our communities as well as outside, but we’re afraid to talk about it because it can potentially be used against us. People in our own communities this power: for example, feminists in Iran are accused of being too “Westernized” by compatriots who have no interest in changing the status quo for women. Many women who seek their fair share are given this load of crap in order to guilt them into shutting up, because Westernization is equated with undesirable qualities in the Muslim world. Or, if we try to speak out to a non-Muslim audience, we are accused of “betraying” Islam or our communities by airing out our “dirty laundry.” Continue reading

Funny Business: Muslims in Comedy

by Racialicious special correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie

Unfortunately, the first image that comes to mind when anyone mentions Islam isn’t a room full of people laughing. But if Maz Jobrani, Shazia Mirza, and Preacher Moss have their way, that will change.

Jobrani, Mirza, and Moss are Muslim comedians; Jobrani and Moss are part of the Axis of Evil and Allah Made Me Funny comedy tours, respectively. Mirza is a British Muslim comedian who has toured in the U.S. and across Europe.

Muslim comedy tours like the Axis of Evil (pictured here) and Allah Made Me Funny comedy tours are gaining momentum, both in the Muslim world and out. The Axis of Evil comedy tour has a special on Comedy Central, a DVD, has already finished a U.S. tour and is currently gearing up for a tour of the Middle East. Allah Made Me Funny has also finished a U.S. tour and is currently on a European tour, and has a DVD available on their website.

In interviews with altmuslim.com, both the members of Axis of Evil and Allah Made Me Funny stress that their comedy is a way to break down stereotypes and problems within their communities. Aron Kader, a member of the Axis of Evil tour, says, “We want to represent our culture in a positive way. Through comedy, we can be accepted and be seen for who we really are – regular Americans.” Dean Obeidallah, another member of the Axis, agrees: “So often we sit and complain how we are demonized and portrayed horribly, [but] the only ones who will ever clear our name is us. The burden is on us. No one is going to do us a favor.”

Tissa Hami, a female Muslim comedian, agrees with this aim. Hami (pictured here) describes her comedy as her way of helping combat stereotypes against Muslims. “‘Why aren’t we speaking out for ourselves?’ she said she would ask herself. ‘Why aren’t we doing something? To me this is something I could do. I know it’s comedy. I know it’s this much. But, if we all do this much, it’s something.’”

Female Muslim comedians are few and far between, but slowly, they’re becoming more visible. Tissa Hami, an Iranian-American, is gaining in popularity in the U.S with her comedy appearances. Hami’s comedy is meant to encourage viewers to look beyond appearances. She dresses in all black, from her shoes to her hejab, and then comes out with lines like: “I’ll be honest with you. I should have worn a long coat, but I was feeling kind of slutty tonight.”

Hami’s comedy reminds me of Shazia Mirza, a Pakistani-British Muslim woman who has gained a fair amount of popularity ever since she appeared at a comedy club dressed in hejab and said, “My name is Shazia Mirza. At least, that’s what it says on my pilot’s license.” Since then, Mirza has been on tours in both Britain and the U.S., and won several awards for her comedy.

Neither Mirza nor Hami wear a headscarf outside of their performances; in fact, Mirza has stopped using hejab in her performances because she felt it unnecessary. Many people disagree with the use of hejab in a comedy show, viewing it as a prop. But the point is to break stereotypes: how can you disrupt the image of a covered woman as oppressed and submissive when there are no veiled sisters doing comedy?

Unfortunately, there are a fair amount of people who disagree with this comedy, many of them Muslims. Preacher Moss, in the altmuslim.com interview, admits, “Yeah, the fiercest critics of our product have been Muslims.” Many Muslims who have not seen the comedy tours view them as haraam (or forbidden) because they assume the comedy’s purpose is to make fun of Islam.

However, in my view, laughter is a good way to break boundaries. Obviously, it can’t be the only thing; we run the risk of becoming the stereotypes we poke fun at. But laughter is a great place to start. If you haven’t seen them, both comedy tours should both be available on your NetFlix: queue ‘em up already!

So You Think You Can (Belly) Dance?

by Racialicious special correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie, originally published at Muslimah Media Watch

It’s time to set the record straight, everyone. So here it is: belly dancing is not a significant facet of Middle Eastern culture. It’s a dance, not a lifestyle (not according to most Middle Eastern people, anyway).

I’ve had one too many people ask me if I belly dance when they hear about my religion or ethnicity. Belly dancing is something that is present in some form of another in most Middle Eastern cultures, but is not really a part of our identity. And I assure you, nowhere in the Holy Qur’an does it say, “Thou shalt belly dance.” But because of Hollywood’s old Orientalist glamour, images of belly dancing have become almost synonymous with the Middle East.

I can’t help but get irritated when someone assumes that s/he and I automatically have something in common because s/he belly dances. The truth of a real-live Middle Eastern woman belly dancing seems to validate all those silly images that come into one’s head about spangly costumes and the Dance of the Seven Veils. Belly dancing has a host of sexualized and savage images attached to it, and if Middle Eastern/Muslim women confess to belly dancing (for exercise, as a career, for fun, or whatever), those images get attached to us, and we no longer have individual thoughts or lifestyles. We don’t take care of our parents or our children, we don’t have jobs or have opinions about health care reform, we just belly dance. Like it’s all we do, all day. This is why it’s insulting when someone thinks s/he knows what it’s like to be a Middle Eastern/Muslim woman because s/he’s taken a belly dancing class or read a book about it. The image of a Middle Eastern woman belly dancing seems to take away from our identity: it erases who we really are, our different nationalities and ethnicities, our emotions, our day-to-day existence.

Now, let me assure you: my problem isn’t with the dance itself. Belly dancing is a great way to connect with one’s sensuality, to exercise, and to appreciate the body that God gave you. Nor is my problem with non-Middle Eastern women (or men) belly dancing (or with Middle Eastern people dancing).

What bothers me is the adoption of a caricatured Middle Eastern identity through coin-bedazzled bras and Middle Eastern stage names like “Amina” or “Vashti.” If you’re a non-Middle Eastern performer, why give yourself a Middle Eastern stage name? What’s wrong with a name that reflects your own ethnicity or interests? Is it not “ethnic” or “exotic” enough? Besides, how would you feel if someone else used the name your parents gave you (that perhaps also belonged to your grandmother or aunt) as a stage name for an act that most people in your culture consider shameful if done publicly? (Cultural lesson: in most parts of the Middle East, belly dancing is often a cover for illicit activities.) Continue reading

Fearing the “Other” Is Politically Profitable: Iran, Islamo-Fascism and the Pursuit of Truth

by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson

The whispers about Iran are starting to become more numerous to ignore. The same whispers continue in hushed tones about Islamo-Fascism, hatred of freedom, and the need to do something.

Do what, I wonder? Bomb more people?

But the whispers grow in volume every day. So, to try to make sense of it all, I began to read.

I read an interesting Q & A on Pop & Politics about Islamo-Fascism.

(Fabulous moment of semi-irony: David Horowitz defending Ann Coulter by saying “Why should anybody in America, whose democratic culture is based on the pluralism of ideas, be offended by a religious belief?” Yes, David, why should they be offended by a religious belief? And why would they decide to be actively offensive toward those who hold other beliefs?)

This appeared the same day I read a Washington Post hosted chat about a PBS program I missed on the whole Iran situation.

Pop and Politics has also been covering some of the issues surrounding some of this othering and the issues surrounding the Bush Administration’s newest target – Iran:

In the Path to Iran, Chris Nelson briefly summarizes Seymour M. Hirsch’s article on the Bush Administration and the next target:

In sum, the war in Iraq is now being redefined— years too late and for ulterior motives— as in fact a strategic conflict with Iran. But blaming Iran for the humiliating U.S. failure in Iraq is merely the latest rhetorical approach to persuade Americans of the need to bomb Tehran, according to Hirsch.

In another post, P & P discussed one of Ann Coulter’s recent speaking engagements in honor of Islamo-Fascism Awareness week:

Ann Coulter descended on USC campus to promote her new book last week as part of the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s “Islamo-Facism Awareness Week.” While speaking to a crowd of about 230 fans at the Annenberg School, she offered equal doses of anti-liberal tirade and inflammatory discourse on the world beyond these amber waves of grain.

“Eschewing debate, I would turn to inflicting horrible physical pain. That seems to change people’s minds,” Coulter said when asked during the Q&A if she believed that “very vigorous intellectual debate could perhaps change [Islamo-Fascist’s] views against using violence to spread religion?”

“Who would have thought the Japanese were governable? A few well-placed nuclear bombs and they’ve been gentle little lambs ever since,” was how she followed-up the “horrible physical pain” plan for Islamo-Fascists. Continue reading

Reasons I Hate Halloween

by Racialicious special correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie, originally published at Muslimah Media Watch.

I hate Halloween. Now that I’m a grown-up, it’s just lost its appeal. Especially when I look at what some adults do for Halloween.

  1. Slutty costumes (I just had to say it)
  2. Slutty “ethnic” costumes: Native American girl, geisha, etc.

In particular:

1. Harem girl costumes
2. Belly dancer costumes
3. Genie costumes
4. Cleopatra costumes
5. Arab sheikh costumes

These costumes reinforce the eroticized and/or dangerous stereotypes associated with Muslim and Middle Eastern men and women. Plus, it’s doubly insulting because (usually) white people will “play dress-up” in these costumes, to supposedly “live like we do” for one night. The only missing detail is: none of the institutional oppression that we face as Muslims and Middle Easterners comes with the costume.

Just looking at the names of the costumes is informative enough: “Exotic Belly Dancer Costume” and “Sheik of Persia Arabian Costume” can tell you that these people have no idea about the culture they think they’re appropriating. (History lesson: Persia didn’t have sheikhs, they had shahs. And Persia and Arabia were two different places! AKH!)

Look at the women’s costumes: all are revealing and hypersexual. How many Middle Eastern women prance around in sheer pants and face veils? None. These costumes scream sexist Orientalism!

Don’t worry, guys! There are plenty of racist costumes for you, too! Take this “Arab Sheik” costume: of course he has a knife! All Middle Eastern men are dangerous, didn’t you know? You can even tell by his face: he’s pissed, and he’s going to take it out on some infidels!

And, if you’d like to pass on your racist Orientalist fantasies to your children, there are belly dancer costumes for little girls! That’s right! Make sure that your daughter learns that her self worth comes from how much her coin-bedazzled bra reveals and how pleasing her dancing is to a man! You can start as soon as she’s a toddler!

Ick. Enjoy your free candy!

Rendition humanizes Arabs

by guest contributor Manish, originally published at Ultrabrown

The new movie Rendition is more interesting for what it is than how it runs. It’s the first fictional film about the U.S. kidnapping-and-torture program, which began under Clinton but was expanded massively under Bush. It’s the first mainstream movie I’ve seen which gives Arabs and Arabic large amounts of humanizing screen time (the protagonist is an Egyptian-American who went to college in the States). And it’s the latest in this year’s wave of whistleblower movies against Dubya’s assault on American liberty.

Mired in noble savage stereotypes, the movie is more earnest than subtle. Moa Khouas, the Arab Romeo, looks like a brown James Franco, but most of the Arab characters are more archetypes than people.

The plot’s central Capulets and Montagues romantic coincidence is Rushdie-esque, a synthetic conceit for the sake of a more interesting story. It’s not a bad movie, just a slow and obvious one, never more so than in a scene where the magnetic Peter Sarsgaard needles CIA muckamuck Meryl Streep with the Constitution, and she responds with 9/11.

The movie is A Mighty Heart in reverse, where the kidnappers are the U.S. government rather than Al Qaeda terrorists. You’ve got the same pretty, pregnant wife embedded in a labyrinthine search for her handsome, intelligent husband. Reese Witherspoon isn’t given much screen direction beyond playing a grieving wife. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character may be suffering from post-traumatic stress sufferer, but the actor sleepwalks through the movie.

This movie was directed by Gavin Hood, the South African who did Tsotsi. The plotting uses the now-familiar Rashomon device of connecting subplots via a single climactic event. One of the subplots is unexpectedly time-shifted, which is great fun.

But the real-life issue is far more significant than the film: the president claims he can legally kidnap anyone around the world, jail him forever without trial, witness or evidence, and have him tortured. It shocks the conscience. Here’s an actual Dubya quote. I can’t figure out whether it’s duplicitous or just feeble-minded:

Q: What’s your definition of the word ‘torture’?

Dubya: That’s defined in U.S. law, and we don’t torture.

Q: Can you give me your version of it, sir?

Dubya: Whatever the law says. [Link]

With no sunlight and no trial, mistakes are inevitable:

  • We had Maher Arar wrongly arrested and tortured. We refuse to apologize. We refuse to take him off the no-fly list.
  • We had Khaled al-Masri wrongly arrested and tortured. We refuse to apologize. We refuse to pay him compensation.
  • We threatened to have the innocent Abdallah Higazy’s family tortured in Egypt:

… [The FBI agent] told him that he should cooperate, and explained that if Higazy did not cooperate, the FBI would make his brother “live in scrutiny” and would “make sure that Egyptian security gives [his] family hell.” … [The agent] knew how the Egyptian security forces operated: “that they had a security service, that their laws are different than ours, that they are probably allowed to do things in that country… probably about torture, sure…” [Higazy said:] “Saddam’s security force–as they later on were called his henchmen–a lot of them learned their methods and techniques in Egypt; torture, rape…” [Link]

And to think America was founded precisely because of this kind of limp-dickery.